Alan Hollinghurst

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A Very English Scan­dal a tele­vi­sion se­ries by Russell T. Davies and Stephen Frears

A Very English Scan­dal a tele­vi­sion se­ries writ­ten by Russell T. Davies and di­rected by Stephen Frears

Alan Hollinghurst

The ma­jor sur­prise of Jeremy Thorpe’s trial in 1979 for con­spir­acy to mur­der was his de­ci­sion not to take the stand—it seems that his coun­sel, Ge­orge Car­man, alert to his client’s histri­onic ten­den­cies, fore­saw the dan­gers of Os­car Wilde–like show­ing-off and self-in­crim­i­na­tion. No wit­nesses were called for the de­fense, and the nar­ra­tive of events con­cern­ing Thorpe was en­tirely es­tab­lished by the pros­e­cu­tion: his af­fair, as a young MP in the early 1960s, with a sta­ble hand and model named Nor­man Scott; Scott’s re­peated at­tempts to go pub­lic with the story (all firmly smoth­ered by the po­lice as well as the press); and the sub­se­quent con­spir­acy to mur­der Scott, who had be­come a threat not only to Thorpe but to the Lib­eral Party of which he was by then the leader. The de­fense’s case con­sisted sim­ply of dis­cred­it­ing the pros­e­cu­tion’s wit­nesses. This was a high-risk ap­proach, and part of the drama of the trial lay in the clever cal­cu­la­tions made by the de­fense about sev­eral mat­ters: the likely at­ti­tude of the whim­si­cal and snob­bish old judge, the sus­cep­ti­bil­ity of the jury to the sta­tus and dig­nity of Thorpe, and the im­pres­sion made by the three main pros­e­cu­tion wit­nesses, Scott, Peter Bes­sell, once Thorpe’s clos­est ally, and An­drew Newton, the comic-book in­com­pe­tent hired to carry out the killing. The cal­cu­la­tions paid off, and af­ter the judge’s sum­ming-up, one of the most bi­ased and mis­lead­ing in Bri­tish le­gal his­tory, Thorpe and his three code­fen­dants in the con­spir­acy were ac­quit­ted. No sit­ting MP had ever been charged with so se­ri­ous a crime, and there seems no doubt now that he was guilty of it, what­ever the ver­dict. Thorpe wasn’t tried for ho­mo­sex­ual acts, which had been de­crim­i­nal­ized twelve years ear­lier, but with­out them there would have been no trial. The Thorpe-Scott story, ram­bling and rum­bling on over a pe­riod of nine­teen years, isn’t easy to sum­ma­rize. The two men met in 1960, when Thorpe was vis­it­ing a busi­ness­man friend who kept horses that were groomed by Scott (then called Nor­man Josiffe). Thorpe gave Scott his card and in­vited him to get in touch if he ever needed him. Scott did just that, turn­ing up with his dog, Mrs. Tish, at the House of Com­mons and ask­ing to see him, largely be­cause he needed help get­ting a new Na­tional In­sur­ance card, with­out which he couldn’t re­ceive ben­e­fits or un­der­take le­gal em­ploy­ment. (The pur­suit of this card be­came a cen­tral mo­tif of his life.)

Thorpe seized his chance, and to dou­ble the ex­cite­ment of risk, took Scott, un­der a false name and pre­tend­ing that he was a cam­era­man, to stay with his for­mi­da­ble wid­owed mother at her house in Sur­rey, oddly enough called Stonewalls. Ur­sula Thorpe wore a mon­o­cle, smoked cigars, and in some pho­tos has the dis­con­cert­ing look of a fe­male im­per­son­ator; she fa­vored Jeremy heav­ily over his two sisters and had high am­bi­tions for him, in­clud­ing a claim on a long-de­funct “barony of Thorpe.” (In chang­ing his name to Scott, Josiffe adopted “the fam­ily name of the 4th Earl of El­don, who sired me, I’m con­vinced,” so both lovers had aris­to­cratic fan­tasies, among oth­ers.) Af­ter a frosty din­ner and a hec­tic pi­ano and vi­olin recital by mother and son, Jeremy vis­ited Nor­man in his bed­room, kissed him, and pro­duced a jar of Vase­line (“ev­ery bach­e­lor’s friend” in Russell T. Davies’s screen­play for A Very English Scan­dal), telling him to keep quiet be­cause his mother was sleep­ing in the next room.

Af­ter this ini­ti­a­tion, Scott was in­stalled for a while in a bed­sit, where Thorpe would visit him for sex. Scott en­joyed the at­ten­tion, was given Gieves & Hawkes suits and din­ners at the Re­form Club, but re­sented be­ing a kept man. Thorpe, who nick­named him Bunny for his star­tled look, wrote him a letter promis­ing that “Bun­nies can (and will) go to France” and end­ing “I miss you”—a letter that was later to be much an­a­lyzed and mocked.

But as time went on, the mud­dle, incompetence, and sheer bad luck that dogged the emo­tion­ally volatile Scott caused a chronic prob­lem for Thorpe, who kept try­ing to pay him off and find him jobs abroad. Other let­ters he had in­cau­tiously writ­ten to him were in cir­cu­la­tion and were only re­trieved by ab­surd skul­dug­gery. Scott be­came sui­ci­dal and wrote a long and des­per­ate letter to Ur­sula, telling her about his af­fair with her son and beg­ging her to in­ter­vene. Like all Scott’s claims about Thorpe she treated it as the in­cred­i­ble fan­tasy of a de­ranged self-serv­ing freak, though it would be in­trigu­ing to know what un­ex­pressed doubts and in­tu­itions also went through her mind. The in­ter­est of Scott is partly his con­fused and some­times tor­mented at­ti­tude to­ward his own sex­u­al­ity. Both men and women found him at­trac­tive, and he them. He had been raised a Catholic and cursed Thorpe for awak­en­ing the “vice” of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity in him, but he loved him too. He mar­ried, dis­as­trously, and fa­thered a child, which the mother took away as part of her com­plex pun­ish­ment of him for (in Davies’s screen­play) be­ing “queer.” Davies brings out well the per­va­sive im­por­tance of class: Thorpe with his flats, houses, and cars, Scott an un­happy no­mad with ev­ery­thing he owns in one bat­tered suit­case. The old-boy net­work pro­tects and ab­sorbs the mainly gay Thorpe (whose first mar­riage, blessed by the arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury, was front-page news), while Scott’s new father-in-law de­nounces him as a “poofter” at his own wed­ding re­cep­tion. Ben Whishaw as Scott mes­mer­iz­ingly com­bines the vul­ner­a­ble and the de­ter­mined, with a de­ter­mi­na­tion born of prin­ci­ple as much as need.

What Davies, with the nec­es­sary econ­omy of drama, omits is any sense of the in­tri­cate fi­nan­cial de­ceit in which the show­man Thorpe be­came em­broiled. When Scott’s can­dor be­came too great a threat, Thorpe made the as­ton­ish­ing de­ci­sion that he must be killed—of course in a way that couldn’t be traced to him. Jack Hay­ward, a gen­er­ous ex­pat Bri­tish busi­ness­man, had al­ready shown him­self will­ing to part with six-fig­ure sums for good causes, and though not a Lib­eral was per­suaded by Thorpe that the Lib­er­als, as a tiny high-minded party with only a rare and ro­man­tic chance of hold­ing the bal­ance of power be­tween the much larger Labour and Con­ser­va­tive par­ties, de­served his sup­port. Huge checks, so­licited by Thorpe for elec­tion funds but des­tined to pay Scott’s would-be as­sas­sin, were sent via Nadir Dinshaw, a blame­less busi­ness­man in Jer­sey, whom Thorpe sub­se­quently pres­sured, in vain, to lie to the po­lice about them. Peter Bes­sell (im­mac­u­lately played by Alex Jen­nings)—a for­mer Lib­eral MP and a busi­ness­man as hap­less as Scott, though on a larger scale—was a fur­ther in­ter­me­di­ary in this squalid af­fair, along with Thorpe’s great friend and best man David Holmes; while two other men, Ge­orge Deakin, a Welsh trader in gam­bling ma­chines, and John Le Mesurier, like Holmes a car­pet dealer, were in­volved in se­cur­ing the ser­vices of An­drew “Gino” Newton, who alarm­ingly was an air­line pilot, to shoot (or was it merely to frighten?) Scott. Sent by Holmes to find Scott, Newton phoned to say there was no sign of him in Dun­sta­ble, only to be told he was meant to be in Barn­sta­ple, a town on the opposite side of the coun­try. In the end Newton, pos­ing as his pro­tec­tor from an­other pu­ta­tive killer, per­suaded Scott to come with him by car to Por­lock at night. Scott brought with him his land­lady’s Great Dane, Rinka. In the rain on a high lonely stretch of Ex­moor, they agreed that Scott should take over the driv­ing, and when they got out of the car Newton shot Rinka dead and turned the gun on Scott; it jammed, and Newton pan­icked and drove off. This was the mo­ment that, in Auberon Waugh’s words, “lifted the Scott af­fair from be­ing of mi­nor­ity, largely satir­i­cal in­ter­est, to be­ing a mat­ter of gen­uine pub­lic con­cern.”

What tone should the film­maker take with this story forty years later? From the start the en­su­ing trial was a sub­ject for satir­i­cal com­edy: Peter Cook’s par­ody of the judge, Mr. Jus­tice Cant­ley (“You are now to re­tire—as in­deed should I—care­fully to con­sider your ver­dict of Not Guilty”), was per­formed within days of his sum­ming-up; and in his book-length ac­count of the trial, The Last Word, pub­lished the fol­low­ing year, Waugh, a Pri­vate Eye jour­nal­ist, pre­sented the bizarreries of both case and trial in vary­ing shades of mock­ery—now openly hos­tile to Thorpe, a long-stand­ing bête noire, now cast­ing the par­tic­i­pants as char­ac­ters from Beatrix Pot­ter (“Tale of a Flopsy Bunny” etc.). Pri­vate Eye had had a grand time with the case—their cover the week af­ter the ac­quit­tal has Thorpe say­ing “Bug­gers Can’t Be Losers” to his wife as they greet the crowds—and Waugh, who lived near Thorpe’s North Devon con­stituency, had stood against him in the gen­eral elec­tion of May 1979 as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the re­proach­fully named Dog Lovers’ Party, at­tract­ing sev­enty-nine votes. He had also stri­dently op­posed the large stone mon­u­ment that Thorpe had erected to his first wife, Caroline, on a beau­ti­ful spot in Ex­moor, find­ing it not only “a per­ma­nent source of ir­ri­ta­tion to those of us who live in the re­gion” but by im­pli­ca­tion an irk­some mon­u­ment to the for­mer MP him­self. So The Last Word, vividly read­able and amus­ing for all its undis­guised prej­u­dices, set the tone for an un­der­stand­ing of the trial.

Davies’s bril­liant screen­play takes its name, as well as much of its man­ner, from John Pre­ston’s en­ter­tain­ingly nov­el­is­tic ac­count of the case.1 Anything de­scribed as “very English” is be­ing sub­jected to a sub­tle form of ridicule, an in­stant sus­pi­cion of stuffi­ness, hypocrisy, and in­ep­ti­tude. It’s an idea of English­ness that has been the lifeblood of Bri­tish film com­edy, from the Eal­ing Stu­dios of the late 1940s and 1950s through the saucier Carry On films of the fol­low­ing three decades, which are know­ingly evoked in Stephen Frears’s di­rec­tion of this richly en­joy­able minis­eries. Whishaw, with his wig­gling walk in re­veal­ingly tight jeans, is one mo­ment as camp as the TV co­me­dian Dick Emery, the next as in­gen­u­ous as Michael Craw­ford in Some Moth­ers Do ’Ave ’Em, the pop­u­lar 1970s sit­com in which Michele Dotrice—here play­ing Scott’s pro­tec­tor, Mrs. Edna Friend­ship—was Craw­ford’s sweetly ex­as­per­ated wife. Murray Gold’s score for the minis­eries has an end­lessly re­de­ployed tune sug­ges­tive of risqué ca­pers, fu­tile cau­tion, and loom­ing come­up­pance—a min­uet danced in heavy boots. It fits

1 A Very English Scan­dal: Sex, Lies, and a Mur­der Plot in the Houses of Par­lia­ment (Other Press, 2016).

with the el­e­ments of pas­tiche in Frears’s di­rec­tion, but at times foists an overin­sis­tent in­ter­pre­ta­tion on scenes that with­out it might have been more com­plex, more like life and less like a minis­eries. Davies, who cre­ated Queer as Folk nearly twenty years ago, is justly cel­e­brated as a screen drama­tist of gay lives, and at mo­ments he fol­lows Thorpe into un­doc­u­mented scenes of anonymous sex­ual pick­ups, some­times dan­ger­ous ones. In one of nu­mer­ous clever echoes and fore­shad­ow­ings, Davies has Thorpe de­clare early on that if anything came out about him and Scott, he would blow his brains out. He later shows Thorpe smoothly agree­ing to sup­port the MP Leo Abse’s bill to de­crim­i­nal­ize ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, which would bear fruit in the Sex­ual Of­fences Act of 1967; and he has a mar­velous scene in the home of “Boofy” Ar­ran, the badger-loving earl who was to pilot the bill through the House of Lords. Ar­ran’s el­der brother (“Queer as spring­time,” his wife af­firms) had in­deed shot him­self, and David Bam­ber as Boofy speaks mov­ingly about him and the cru­elty of the law: “I don’t think it’s sui­cide, I think it’s mur­der.”


Davies’s screen­play Thorpe’s trial emerges as a con­flict be­tween the hope­lessly bun­gled de­ceit of Thorpe and his cronies and the fear­less and re­lent­less truth-telling of Scott, “an open ho­mo­sex­ual, a new world blaz­ing,” in the words given to Ge­orge Car­man. In re­al­ity much of Scott’s tes­ti­mony was barely au­di­ble, and he broke down com­pletely at one point and had to be coaxed to con­tinue. What Waugh called his “petu­lant rages” at other times ap­pear here as a heroic stand on be­half of men sex­u­ally abused by oth­ers in power—“You will not shut me up!” It’s a gay #MeToo mo­ment—Scott emerg­ing from the Old Bai­ley to pose for the cam­eras amid a gay rights demon­stra­tion, with “Knock on Wood” pound­ing on the sound­track. It was a cen­tral para­dox of the trial that when Bes­sell and Scott most clearly told the truth they were most ex­pressly dis­be­lieved, but the trial could cer­tainly have been de­picted in more de­tail, with the sav­age and (in Waugh’s words) “gra­tu­itously of­fen­sive” judge’s steer­ing of the whole thing made more ev­i­dent.

Thorpe is played with breath­tak­ing plau­si­bil­ity by Hugh Grant. Only at one mo­ment did I have doubts. Thorpe be­came “the youngest man to lead a Bri­tish po­lit­i­cal party in more than a cen­tury” when he gained the Lib­eral lead­er­ship: he was thirty-seven. Grant is fifty-eight, and his age, per­fect for the more ca­dav­er­ous Thorpe of the late 1970s, lends a per­haps mis­lead­ing color to the flash­back scenes in 1960, when he first meets and se­duces Scott (“Now I’m go­ing to kiss you, and you will en­joy it”). Thorpe, a well-con­nected Old Eto­nian, had all the read­ily ex­ploitable power and pres­tige of class and sta­tus, but he was only thirty-two, a young man him­self, not the late-mid­dle-aged preda­tor we see on­screen. The so­cial dy­nam­ics may have been sim­i­lar, but the per­sonal ones must have been some­what dif­fer­ent. In re­al­ity Thorpe was one year younger than Grant was when he played the tou­sle-haired Charles in Four Wed­dings and a Funeral.

Still, Thorpe is a mar­velous sub­ject for an ac­tor with Grant’s ex­pe­ri­ence and back­ground. A life­time of ob­ser­va­tion of English man­ners and psy­chol­ogy in­forms a per­for­mance of sus­tained subtlety, wit, and spar­ing but pow­er­ful pathos. The fascination of Thorpe as a char­ac­ter study lies partly in the in­tense self-be­lief of a man who seems eerily empty, dy­namic in self-ad­vance­ment, impressing oth­ers as well as him­self with his clar­ion views on hot top­ics, but lazy as to de­tail and eas­ily dis­tracted, pow­ered by ego but used to get­ting his way through a mag­netic ex­er­cise of charm—a po­lit­i­cal type rec­og­niz­able in all pe­ri­ods. That it worked is shown by the ex­tra­or­di­nary loy­alty of friends like Bes­sell and Holmes, who put them­selves at se­ri­ous risk to obey him and save him from him­self, and by the hearty sup­port of his con­stituents, more than 23,000 of whom voted for him five days be­fore he was due to stand trial for con­spir­acy to mur­der. They were un­der his spell and they didn’t be­lieve it. Michael Bloch, in his 2014 bi­og­ra­phy of Thorpe, quotes an in­ter­view, given when Thorpe was await­ing trial, by the art dealer David Car­ritt, who had been Thorpe’s lover in the late 1950s be­fore a ran­corous breakup. “One of the most self-cen­tered people I’ve ever met,” says Car­ritt:

Mildly en­ter­tain­ing, slightly sin­is­ter. Said to be witty, but his wit con­sists en­tirely of im­per­son­ations and if one doesn’t care for im­per­son­ations, he’s re­ally a bit of a bore. He had a form of am­bi­tion so ex­tra­or­di­nary it was hard to be­lieve in, be­cause it was am­bi­tion in the ab­stract, an am­bi­tion for vul­gar­i­ties—to be rich, pow­er­ful, fa­mous. He took these am­bi­tions so se­ri­ously that one re­ally con­sid­ered him a bit dotty. Cul­tured? Not by my stan­dards. Can play the vi­olin a bit, that’s all. He was all dressed up like a ham ac­tor...a char­ac­ter out of Dis­raeli.

Im­per­son­ation is a fas­ci­nat­ing sub­ject, for orig­i­nal and ac­tor alike. Thorpe had been a noted mimic since child­hood, and his years as a politi­cian co­in­cided with the rise of a much bet­ter-known fig­ure, the im­per­son­ator Mike Yar­wood, whose TV shows were among the most pop­u­lar Bri­tish light-en­ter­tain­ment pro­grams of all time. Mimicry as commentary was in the air, and af­fec­tion­ate for the most part un­til the more grotesque turn of Spit­ting Im­age in the 1980s and the fiercer TV satire that was to fol­low. Yar­wood’s fa­vorite sub­ject was the Labour prime min­is­ter Harold Wil­son, whose dry York­shire tones Davies has Thorpe and Bes­sell mim­ick­ing in an early scene in the Mem­bers’ Din­ing Room of the House of Com­mons (the demise of Wil­son’s gov­ern­ment be­ing in ques­tion). Thorpe’s abil­ity to “take off” other people—an un­set­tling means of both mock­ing and in­dulging them—was a prom­i­nent part of his so­cial per­for­mance; he even risked mim­ick­ing the strong Devon burr of his own con­stituents, who seem to have lapped it up.

What Grant brings out is the self­de­light, and even­tu­ally the per­plex­ity, of a man who is also some­how act­ing him­self, a con­fected chancer in dou­ble­breasted waist­coats, watch chains, and a trilby hat. Thorpe’s man­ners and habits, his taste for op­u­lent par­ties and reck­less ex­pen­di­ture, were more like those of a Tory grandee than of the leader of a pro­gres­sive po­lit­i­cal party (he marked his second mar­riage by host­ing a gala evening at the Royal Opera House). It was a cu­ri­ous act height­ened by the nec­es­sary pre­tenses of a gay man who was thirty-eight when his sex life was de­crim­i­nal­ized and who, be­yond his coun­sel’s al­lowance that he had had “ho­mo­sex­ual ten­den­cies” when young, never pub­licly ac­knowl­edged his dom­i­nant sex­u­al­ity.

Thorpe’s first mar­riage, in Pre­ston’s and Davies’s read­ing, was purely for rea­sons of po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­di­ency: a mar­ried leader of a party was thought to im­prove its elec­toral prospects. Caroline All­pass (played by a flaw­less Alice Or­rEwing) was nine years younger than Thorpe, lively, loving, and re­as­sur­ingly in­ex­pe­ri­enced. Their son Ru­pert was

born in 1969. Caroline was kept in the dark, of course, about her hus­band’s other life, and the am­biva­lences of what seems to have been a gen­er­ally happy mar­riage are caught in a scene in their Devon cot­tage where she presses him to dance with her; the so­cially adept Thorpe de­lib­er­ately treads on her toes to get out of it. Not long af­ter, Scott, des­per­ate as ever about his Na­tional In­sur­ance card, tele­phones the house and in­forms Caroline that her hus­band had been not only his em­ployer but his lover. The idea is so ap­palling to her that she re­fuses to con­tem­plate it, telling Thorpe, “We will never dis­cuss this, in any way, ever.” The chance to do so was cur­tailed a year later by her death in a car ac­ci­dent.

In 1973 he mar­ried Mar­ion Stein, three years his se­nior and the di­vorced wife of the 7th Earl of Hare­wood, a first cousin of the queen. Thorpe, who had once had fan­tasies of mar­ry­ing Princess Mar­garet,2 must have been pleased by the high so­cial con­nec­tion. Mar­ion was the daugh­ter of Er­win Stein, a prom­i­nent Viennese mu­si­cian who had fled with his fam­ily to Lon­don af­ter the An­schluss. She had briefly met Benjamin Brit­ten as a child when he’d come to Vi­enna in 1934 in the hope of meeting Al­ban Berg. When a fire in the Steins’ Lon­don flat left them home­less, they lodged for some time with Brit­ten and his part­ner, Peter Pears, in St John’s Wood. She was a fine pi­anist, and Brit­ten be­came a sig­nif­i­cant fig­ure

2On hear­ing of her en­gage­ment to Antony Arm­strong-Jones, he wrote, “What a pity about HRH. I rather hoped to marry the one and se­duce the other.” in her young life, play­ing duets with her and taking her to re­hearsals; af­ter the war he and Pears in­volved her in­ti­mately in the foun­da­tion of the Alde­burgh Fes­ti­val. So, among other things, she was at­tuned from child­hood to the do­mes­tic life of a fa­mous gay cou­ple. In Pre­ston’s ac­count, Mar­ion, with whom Thorpe had war­ily brought up the mat­ter of his gay dal­liances, was not only shocked but dis­gusted by the thought of them. But in Davies’s film some­thing more com­plex hap­pens: Mar­ion (ex­actly and mov­ingly played by Mon­ica Dolan) is a voice not of prud­ery but of con­science. “I prac­ti­cally grew up with Benjamin Brit­ten,” she says. “There’s no need to pro­tect me.” Thorpe, of course, is re­ally ex­cus­ing him­self: “One word brought me down,” he says, re­fer­ring to the no­to­ri­ous “Bun­nies” letter. “No,” says Mar­ion: “it’s be­cause you lied.” Be­sides, what had struck her in the letter was not “Bun­nies” but the clos­ing phrase, “I miss you”: “I think that’s a won­der­ful thing for a man to say to his friend.” This is cer­tainly a won­der­ful thing for a mis­led wife to say in a film, but in its quiet clear-sight­ed­ness and loy­alty it feels true to her char­ac­ter. Of course, the truth of what any­one felt at the time about ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, in prin­ci­ple and in prac­tice, at a dis­tance or close up, is rarely fully know­able. To Mar­ion the trial was a des­per­ately pub­lic test of honor—she at­tended ev­ery day and had, Waugh claimed, “a steady, de­press­ing influence over the press benches.” For her it wasn’t satir­i­cal at all.

At the close of A Very English Scan­dal, as the Thorpe fam­ily cel­e­brates the ac­quit­tal with a quasi-royal ap­pear­ance on the bal­cony of their Lon­don house, Ur­sula mut­ters to her son, “Of course, you’re ru­ined—you know that, don’t you.” The oth­ers go in, but Jeremy, loath to leave the lime­light, grins and ca­pers for a minute longer, mim­ing his own re­luc­tance to leave the press and its cam­eras for the stiffer con­clave of mother, wife, and son in­doors. Whether he re­ally un­der­stood that it was all over for him is un­clear—he made var­i­ous at­tempts to come back, to find a role, to be use­ful to the party. He looked with an undimmed sense of en­ti­tle­ment into the ways he might be awarded a peer­age. But if not ru­ined, he was never to be al­lowed to make much progress. In the same year as the trial, he was di­ag­nosed with Parkin­son’s dis­ease; he sur­vived for thirty-five more years. I used to see him for a few days each summer in the late 1990s, when I stayed at the Red House in Alde­burgh dur­ing the fes­ti­val—the dou­ble-breasted fig­ure shrunken, shuf­fling, bent steeply for­ward. One year a change of med­i­ca­tion had him briefly up­right, bolt­ing in and out of rooms at alarm­ing speed; but the voice was an ever-dwin­dling husk. Ev­ery­one fell silent to hear his whis­pered re­marks, his fea­tures im­mo­bi­lized but still some­how con­fi­dent that the of­ten-heard joke would amuse. Mar­ion gave her­self en­tirely to look­ing af­ter him, her heavy smok­ing the sole in­dex of ten­sions oth­er­wise tightly con­tained. But the con­certs at last grew im­pos­si­ble for Thorpe, his un­stop­pable shak­ing dis­turbed those around him, and Mar­ion would be forced to lead him out. The grim life sen­tence of Parkin­son’s must have given him many such in­vol­un­tary rat­tlings, even in those places where he had once felt most wel­come and se­cure.

For­mer Lib­eral Party leader Jeremy Thorpe leav­ing the Old Bai­ley with his wife, Mar­ion, af­ter he was found not guilty of con­spir­acy to mur­der, Lon­don, June 1979

Ben Whishaw as Nor­man Scott with his dog, Mrs. Tish, in A Very English Scan­dal

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